Chuck Hagel's big question

For the retiring Republican senator, it's all on the table.

Published September 11, 2007 3:52PM (EDT)

Saying that there's nothing "unpatriotic" about questioning "strategy," retiring GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel just laid into Gen. David Petraeus, ambassador Ryan Crocker, the reports they're providing and the strategy they're pursuing.

Hagel said there are "bright-line contradictions" between the facts Petraeus and Crocker have reported and the facts he's seeing reported elsewhere. He said the United States didn't send enough troops to Iraq in the first place and that "we still don't have enough troops." He said that he'd heard from a member of the Jones commission that the United States has "probably lost southern Iraq." He said that the benchmarks that Iraqis haven't met -- the ones from which Crocker and the White House have sought some distance -- "didn't come from the Congress of the United States" but from the Bush administration and the Iraqis themselves. He said that the administration has never looked at Iraq "from the larger strategic context." He asked whether the Senate was just supposed to ignore the views of seven soldiers set out in an extraordinary New York Times Op-Ed piece last month. He said he was seeing "too many disconnects." He said that our troops are in the middle of a civil war in Iraq. He acknowledged that Crocker had said what a "brutal, bloody dictator" Saddam Hussein was and then said that that wasn't the real issue. He said the real issue was political reconciliation in Iraq, and whether having a large number of U.S. troops remain in Iraq would actually bring it about.

Then Hagel noted his time was up and said he'd "appreciate" if he could "get an answer to that question."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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